We have the ‘Francis effect’ to thank for the reopening of Ireland’s Vatican embassy

Pope Francis (PA)

I feel like I am fantasising – I am reeling from the news that the Irish government is set to re-open the Irish Embassy to the Holy See. It just seems too good to be true. In the winter of 2011, Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore maintained that the closing of the embassy was done with the aim of saving some Euros, so that Ireland would make financial savings and so appease our betters in the EU and IMF.

Now just over two years later, the embassy will be re-instated. It has been reported that a key reason for its new inception is Pope Francis’s papacy. The most fundamental plans for this Vatican Embassy already bear hallmarks of Francis’s pontificate. It is being stressed that the embassy will be a ‘modest’ affair, that an ordinary office will suffice and that one diplomat will be the sole employee. Most interestingly, the guiding aim of the new embassy would seem to be at one with the Pope’s mindset. Pope Francis has stressed overseas aid for our poorest brethren, and the main focus of the newly re-instated embassy will be development aid. It is astounding and wonderful that the tenets of Francis’s papacy are influencing the Irish political class, who were thought to be resolute in jettisoning Ireland’s Catholic heritage.

Catholic tax-payers had paid for their country’s embassy to the Holy See, and the cynical and hasty closing of the embassy was impervious to the wishes of the Catholic laity. But shutting down the embassy caused a core section of Irish Catholics to unite. We must give a pat on the back to the members of Ireland Stand-Up. They are a gutsy organisation that pledged they would not rest until the embassy was reopened.

In 2012, the group arranged for 73 senators and MPs – almost a third of Ireland’s elected politicians – to meet in Dublin and protest against the closure. They ran postcard campaigns and have a website that in itself is an education in the rich contribution that the Irish have made to the Catholic Church. They bravely and relentlessly petitioned prime minister Enda Kenny. Had the embassy never been shut-down, then Ireland Stand-Up may never have existed. The closing of the embassy moved them to prove that the lay-people in the Irish Church are not docile and submissive. The evolution of Ireland Stand-Up was, in fact, a positive development of the embassy’s closure.